It's Not a Doctor's Duty to Discuss Gun Safety With Patients

Greg A. Hood, MD


April 01, 2014

In This Article

Doctors Don't Belong in the Fray

Recently, Medscape published Dr. Art Caplan's video commentary "Docs Should Promote Gun Safety With Patients."[1] Unfortunately, this presentation, from a PhD ethicist, did not include perspectives derivable from direct physician-patient encounters.

Gun Violence Is Not the Same Discussion as Gun Safety

Greg A. Hood, MD

Initially, Dr. Caplan strayed from his titular topic when he rhetorically asked whether gun violence is a public health problem. Plainly, the problem of gun violence is different from the issue of gun safety. Fueled by fractures in society, the loss of the family unit, and other factors, "gun violence" has intensified in a particularly disproportionate manner in select cities and, within them, certain neighborhoods.[2]

In fact, gun violence is most frequently found in about 29 neighborhoods throughout America. (There is a map of this.[2]) Gun safety, however, is a widely applicable issue "behind every blade of grass" in America, to use Admiral Yamamoto's apocryphal quote.

Dr. Caplan stated, "One of the leading problems with guns is that we don't educate children to know what to do when they find a gun or see a gun. So, if a 5- or 6-year-old sees a gun, we need a program that teaches that child that if you see a gun, walk away, get out of the area, and then tell an adult."

Poignantly, the advice of "If you see a gun: STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult" comes directly from the Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program, which was initiated by the NRA in 1988. Still in use, it is cited as having instructed more than 25 million children in all 50 states. Its development is described as follows: "This program was developed through the combined efforts of such qualified professionals as clinical psychologists, reading specialists, teachers, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials, and law enforcement personnel."[3]

A better title to the original article might have been "Appropriately Trained Docs Should Promote Gun Safety With Patients." Another approach might have been to say, "It Is Time to Explore High-Quality, Evidence-Based Methods of Teaching Gun Safety (As Well As Legal Ramifications)," because it is indeed time to have a fully developed, fully mature discussion on the underpinnings of the issues of the inappropriate misuse of firearms, including the role of the loss of the family unit, the desensitization of society, and the glamorization of violence as contributing to the problem of violence in our world.

We must also acknowledge that there will always be the inevitable threat of acts of violence and terrorism, whether by guns, fists, or other measures. We must acknowledge the inherent right of law-abiding citizens to take reasonable precautions against such threats.


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